MET opens ‘Oliver!’ for abbreviated run

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Make plans and book tickets now to see a seldom produced musical-theatre classic, “Oliver,!” because the limited run passes too quickly.

Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre presents the Charles Dickens story about an orphan boy in the early 1800s. Subjected to cruel treatment in a near-London work-house, Oliver Twist escapes his fate and stumbles into a den of pickpockets and thieves, a definite step up from the harsh world of child-labor workhouses and orphanages of the time. Still, a den of thieves does not appear to be a profitable existence for most. But, that life gives the audience a strong anti-hero in the form of Fagin, the mastermind of the Oliver’s new life.

Similar to Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge, Fagin loves money and possessions above all else. While he does provide food and shelter for his “boys,” he misuses them to line his own selfish pockets. Even though a selfish figure, he’s like a bad fairy-godfather to the boys as opposed to the sinister, evil, malicious Bill Sikes–the true villain in the story.

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The story features three strong male characters–Oliver Twist, as an innocent victim; a mean-spirited Bill Sikes, and a shady semi-villain, Fagin. To balance the characters, Nancy, one of Fagin’s gang finds herself in a dangerous situation that pits her between Oliver and Bill. Nancy provides the delicate balance to make the story work. As a member of Fagin’s den of thieves, she finds herself torn between Oliver’s plight and her love for Sikes. The story blends the relationships well and the music delivers a lighter element than the dialogue alone. It’s a beautiful mix to watch and hear.

Depend of director Karen Paisley to perfectly cast any show. The actors she selects and the characters they perform always stand out as memorable and decisive. As musical director, Loren Bridge crafted each song to capture the correct attitude for each character to perform. Bridge’s small pit band sounded like a small orchestra as they played the score. As a choreographer, Ace Lovelace not only created good movements for each musical piece, but got 16 young performers to look like seasoned professionals. And, viewers will note the many costumes and set pieces required to stage “Oliver!” The costumes reflect the time period which helps the audience enjoy the production. The number of costumes and moving set pieces help create theatre magic for the audience.

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All the technical aspects help deliver a solid show for audiences of all ages to enjoy. No weaknesses exist in this production.

The cast presents strong performances from the major to the minor parts. Standouts include Brad Dawdy as Fagin, Rhaelin Green as Oliver Twist, Ken Koval as Bill Sikes, Chad Burris as Mr. Bumble, and Karen Blackmon as Nancy. Not only did they protray their characters well, but also their vocal performances were exceptionally strong. Even in a smaller role, Kristen Alley’s vocal range went from low register notes to high, clear soprano tones.

As Oliver Twist, Rhaelin Green, gives notice to Kansas City directors, producers, and audiences that he will be seen more and more as he develops and hones his skills.. He presents the innocent Oliver Twist with a quiet charm that makes the audience bond with him immediately..

As a mild antagonist, Brad Dawdy tiptoes from good to slightly sinister. Dawdy resists playing Fagin as a heavy villain or a funny criminal. It’s a tightrope part that can easily tilt one way or the other. Dawdy keeps Fagan as a balance between good and bad. His vocal performance, “I’m Reviewing the Situation” gives the audience a glimpse if he really regrets his past life of crime. Can he change in his old age? Go and see.

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As the most evil character in a musical (until “Les Misérables”) Bill Sikes deserves a chorus of boos for his curtain call, And, Ken Koval’s strong characterization might just elicit them. Koval makes Sikes larger than life, dark, and sinister. Koval hits some dramatic heights with this performance.  Good job.

Photo by Bob Paisley and courtesy of Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre

As a new face and voice for Kansas City audiences, get acquainted with Karen Blackmon who plays and sings the part of Nancy. Blackmon’s songs “It’s a Fine Life” and “Oom-pah-pah!” give a happy lift to the story. Blackmon’s talents then shift to the most heart-wrenching ballad “As Long As He Needs Me” to explain her love for the abusive Bill Sikes.

In a smaller role, Chad Burris plays for comedy and drama. He’s a tyrant in the boy’s workhouse and an amorous suitor in the next scene. Burris makes the most of each scene when he comes on stage.

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Overall, “Oliver!” delivers a good story, based on a Dickens classic. While reading the original novel might repel readers, the musical theatre version contains a good score with many known songs. The characters are richly written and allow actors some range in their presentation of the characters.

The MET’s production of “Oliver!” finally opens after the COVID hiatus. All cast and crew remain negative as the show opens for an abbreviated run. Patron health and safety remain the top priority.

With a solid production team backing the actors, “Oliver!” presents a great escape from the COVID-weary theatregoers. Unfortunately, “Oliver!” only runs for a Thursday-Sunday schedule. Be aware that social distancing and safety remain top concerns of the production. Vaccination records, a photo ID, and masks are required while inside the Warwick Theatre.

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As an added bonus to safely socially distance audience members, Paisley staged “Oliver!” in the round. By doing so, the cast must play to all portions of the auditorium space and remain in constant motion.

“Oliver!”deserves sold-out performances because it continues to be a crowd pleaser. Tickets remain, so call the box office to reserve.

The cast for “Oliver!” is: Oliver Twist – Rhaelin Green, Fagin – Brad Dawdy, The Artful Dodger – Ace Lovelace, Bill Sikes – Ken Koval, Nancy – Karen Blackmon, Bet – Kelsey Nicholes, Mr. Bumble – Chad Burris, Mrs. Corney – Kristen Alley, Mr. Brownlow – Shane St. James, Mr. Sowerberry – Austen Schoenborn, Mrs. Sowerberry – Brandis Outlaw, Noah Claypole/Charley Bates – Landan Stocker, Mrs. Bedwin – Elizabeth Henks, Dr. Grimwig – Josh Jackson, Cop/Others – Landon Hudson, Governor/Knife Grinder/Others – Ray Zarr, Fagin’s Gang – Creighton Allaire, Sawyer Downey, Hazel Downey, Elliana Farrow, Aisatu Jallow, Sam Porter, Brenna Bridge, Eliana Farrow, Moss Terrell, and Cailyn Bridge; Orphans – Genny Fuller, Enrique Bautista, Frances Bautista, Scarlett Bautista, Xavier Bautista.

[media-credit name=”Photo by Bob Paisley and courtesy of Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre” align=”alignright” width=”224″][/media-credit]

“Oliver!” production team: Director/Production Design – Karen Paisley, Stage Manager – Robin Carroll-Dolci, Assistant Stage Manager – Mark McNeal, Assistant to the Director – Elizabeth Henks, Props Master – Jenny Rovel Jones,

“Oliver!” Orchestra: Music Director – Loren Bridge, Keyboard – Laurie Schwab, Drums – Tim Schwab, Deana Wagoner-strings and keys, Ron Mundt-reeds, Tom Barton-bass.

Tags: “Oliver!”, Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, Musicals, Arts & Entertainment, Kansas City, Kansas City Theatre, The Warwick Theatre,

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